Written by Andy Newman Thursday, 17 October 2013 00:00
Beginning at the age of seven when he lived in Hong King, Great Neck North High School sophomore Anson Cheung has worked his way up to becoming both a nationally ranked badminton player and the defending Nassau County First Singles champion.
Currently, the slender 15-year-old is ranked 29th in the United States in the under 17-year-old division, but his ranking might be considerably higher were it not for the fact that the 5-9 youngster restricts himself to entevring qualifying tournaments on the East Coast only. If he took part in the many other events nationally available, it is probable that he would be able to pick up additional ranking points in his age group.
Right now, though, Cheung is looking forward to defending his Nassau title in early November at Long Beach High School and going through the season unbeaten. At the midway point, he’s won all seven of his matches and helped his teammates go 5-2 against other schools. This is an improvement over last year’s record when coach John Zak’s team was under .500.
Cheung’s introduction to the sport in Hong Kong came at the urging of his father, who also played. While most Americans may look upon badminton as something informally played in the backyard, it’s an extremely popular organized sport in Asia. Most countries have national teams and dedicated followers. The United States has a national organization and players frequently participate internationally, including in the Olympics.
“My dad used to play badminton too,” said Cheung, explaining how he got started in the sport. “One day he brought me to a public gym in Hong Kong where you can play. I tried a lesson and I thought it was fun and I took it just as a game. But I didn’t know it was this hard until later on.“
Training is what he considers the hard part. “You have to have a good mental outlook and have confidence,” Cheung explained. “You have to be physically strong and that’s the hardest thing because I personally wasn’t strong. My coaches had to teach me a lot about getting stronger and told me to do physical training and that’s really, really hard.
Besides being coached at North, Cheung, who came to this country in 2007, is also coached by Mike Foo, who played in Malaysia, where badminton is also popular. Cheung spends additional hours each week working with Foo in Queens.
Combined with the 12-hours-a-week he spends practicing with Zak’s team and the weekend hours with Foo, badminton for Cheung is almost his full time job.
“With going to school, homework and playing, I don’t have time for much else,” Cheung admits.
Cheung’s only loss last year came in his initial high school match as a freshman. He lost by two points to Jericho’s Matt George. Cheung later beat George in straight sets and again, in straight sets, for the individual County title.
“I was mad,” said Cheung of that first match. “When I was warming up with him I thought he was pretty good but not good enough to win.” George was the County winner the year before.
Coach Zak is enthusiastic in his praise for his star player. “His shots are just amazing, especially his drop shots and smashes” says the coach, now in his third year leading the Blazers. “When I’m showing the newer players how to make some of these shots I have Anson demonstrate them.”
“I haven’t really seen any weakness in his game,” the coach continued, “but one of the other players on our team who plays with him in College Point claims that he knows Anson’s weakness but he won’t tell anybody.”
Cheung is planning to run track in the spring and is unsure as to how he’ll continue badminton competition after high school. So far he and the coach have only found colleges that have club programs, but not on the NCAA level.
“I’m sure if Anson traveled more he’d be ranked higher,” added Zak. “He’d pick up a lot more points. If you looked closely at the ratings, you’d find only two or three players from New York, including Anson, who are in that top 29.”